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CFANS Insights survey shows that 80% of US consumers today prefer animal-based protein

According to a new CFANS Insights survey from the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), 80% of US adult consumers today prefer pork, beef, poultry, and fish as their main sources of protein. Plant protein is gaining popularity, however, with 31% of consumers saying they will eat more plant protein over the next five years.

As America’s preferences for protein continue to evolve, the global plant-based protein market is rapidly expanding. Valued at US$29.4 billion in 2020, this sector could surpass US$162 billion by 2030, composing 7.7% of the global protein market. In the CFANS Insights survey, 'Gen Xers' indicated the highest preference for plant protein today at 26%, compared to 20% across other consumer segments. Their younger Gen Z counterparts, however, expressed the most willingness to pay more for plant protein options at 44%.

“Plant-based proteins are more in demand than ever before,” commented Pam Ismail, PhD, Founder & Director of the Plant Protein Innovation Center (PPIC) at CFANS and Professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. “As a society we are becoming increasingly focused on the interconnected health of people, animals, and the planet. With that, the demand for plant-based protein has grown steadily,” she said, noting that increases in environmental awareness among consumers, as well as increases in health-conscious consumers and in the vegan/vegetarian/flexitarian population are key drivers for plant protein popularity.

Currently, the meat and poultry industry makes up the largest segment of US agriculture, with a market size of nearly US$170.4 billion, and is expected to reach nearly US$215.8 billion by 2028. Although meat is clearly an American staple, 36% of animal product consumers do express a clear concern about the environmental impacts from the industry.

With almost one-third of US consumers planning to consume more plant protein between now and 2027, the PPIC is well-positioned to meet their demand for ingredients and products that are nutritious and pleasing in terms of texture and flavor. The center is a hub for plant-based research, with scientists from various disciplines working together to develop new and successful protein ingredients and applications, scale protein from sustainable agriculture, and train the next generation of plant protein scientists. "We're rapidly learning about the opportunities of plant proteins, and we're learning about the healthier and more sustainable nature of plant-based diets every day,” said Ismail.

Serving as a bridge between academia and industry, the PPIC recently convened a commercialization workshop with speakers and attendees from a variety of major food companies and groups.

“We’re listening to what the consumer is asking for and we’re listening to industry needs, and it’s all underpinned by what’s good for our environment,” Ismail added. “The PPIC is where we come together to grow our research and accelerate progress.”

As the PPIC pioneers new protein paths, CFANS animal science researchers continue to pursue sustainable solutions in traditional protein production. For example, they’re exploring ways to reduce ammonia and methane output from animals by measuring the effects of different feeds and feed additives, and working with enzymes to improve nutrient and energy digestibility and optimize efficiency.

“With the array of protein options we’re working on today and those on the horizon, consumers have an increasing number of choices to meet their lifestyle needs,” said Schutz. “We’re using CFANS science across disciplines to build a nutritious, delicious, and sustainable future.”

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